Potomac News Online | SNIPER UPDATES (updated last: 10/22/03 1:09pm)
Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad rehired his two attorneys this morning after two days of acting as his own counsel.
Prince William Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. held a half-hour bench discussion with Muhammad, his two attorneys and prosecutors before the jury was let into the courtroom.
“Mr. Muhammad believes it is in his best interest to no logner represent himself so his attorneys will represent him for the balance of the trial,” Millette said after the jury was let in to the Virginia Beach courtroom.
Mohammad’s decision to represent himself just as testimony in the trial was about to begin Monday stunned both his attorneys Jonathan Shapiro and Peter Greenspun
Millette had no choice but to grant the 42-year-old defendant’s request after judging that the high school graduate was competent and understood his legal rights.
The 1975 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Faretta v. California gives defendants the right to represent themselves under the Sixth Amendment.
The effect was immediately evident as Muhammad’s lawyers this morning repeatedly objected to questions by Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert of a witness.
Muhammad is charged with two counts of capital murder, conspiracy to commit murder and a firearms charge for the shooting death of Dean Harold Meyers, a 53-year-old Maryland man, at a gas station north of Manassas.
His 17-year-old alleged accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo is believed to be the triggerman and will be tried in Chesapeake beginning Nov. 10. Prosecutors say new and untried terrorism laws, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, allow Muhammad as the mastermind behind the string of shootings to get the death penalty if convicted.
Prosecutors will have to show not only that Muhammad participated in a slaying, but that the intent was to influence the government or to intimidate the civilian population.
The other capital charge alleges multiple murders over three years. Prosecutors will have to prove Muhammad’s involvement in the Meyers killing and at least one other fatal shooting to obtain a conviction under that count.
Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (757) 219-2727.